Philosophy, recent, Religion, Right of Reply

Values, Even Secular Ones, Depend on Faith: A Reply to Jerry Coyne

Jerry Coyne’s article “Secular Humanism is Not a Religion” is longer than my “Is Secular Humanism a Religion?”, perhaps because he is confused about what I said. Or perhaps I was too concise. Possibly the problem was my title (not mine, but Quillette’s) which is a bit misleading.

I wasn’t saying that secular humanism is a religion. I was saying that in those aspects of religion which actually affect and seek to guide human behavior, secular humanism does not differ from religion. It has commandments, just as Christianity has. But they are covert, not in plain sight and not easily accessible: not, therefore, as vulnerable to criticism as religious dicta. Moreover, in no case are secular commandments derivable from reason. Like religious “oughts” they are also matters of faith. Secular morals are as unprovable as the morals of religion.

Coyne asks us to believe that secularists are somehow above the fray: “In contrast [to religious morality], the morality of secular humanists derives from rational consideration about how we ought to act—principles based largely on reason but ultimately grounded on a secular preference (i.e., ‘I prefer a society in which individuals do what maximizes well-being.’).” But he absolutely misses Hume’s point: “It is not contrary to reason to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of my finger. It is not contrary to reason for me to chuse my total ruin, to prevent the least uneasiness of an Indian or person wholly unknown to me.” Action requires motive; reason by itself provides no motive; reason cannot tell us how we ought to act.

My argument is simple: religions have three characteristics: spiritual, mythical/historical, and moral. Secular humanism lacks the first two and is often quite critical of these aspects of religion. But they are largely irrelevant to politics. Hence the truth or falsity of religious myths is also irrelevant, as are Coyne’s disproofs of the existence of God. The fact that religious morals are derived from religious stories—myths in Mr. Coyne’s book—does not make them any more dismissible than Mr. Coyne’s morals, which are connected to nothing at all. In his own agnostic terms, all are matters of faith.

It really doesn’t matter whether a judge or a politican believes in God or the virgin birth, unless such beliefs lead him—in violation of the First Amendment—to block the teaching of biology. In general, the moral strictures of religion are alone relevant to policy. And the secularists have just as many of those as their religious opponents. In other words, in all the ways that matter for action, secularists and religious believers do not differ.

John Staddon is James B. Duke Professor of Psychology and Professor of Biology, Emeritus, at Duke University. His most recent books are Scientific Method: How science works, fails to work or pretends to work (2018, Routledge), and The Englishman: Memoirs of a psychobiologist, (2016, University of Buckingham Press). You cannot follow him on Twitter.

Feature photo by Alf Ribeiro / Shutterstock.

84 Comments

  1. Author asserts that “It has commandments, just as Christianity has. But they are covert, not in plain sight and not easily accessible: not, therefore, as vulnerable to criticism as religious dicta.”

    Feel free to criticize these “covert” commandments. (From Below link):

    https://thehumanist.com/commentary/the-humanist-ten-commandments

    “First, though, it must be said that the idea of a secular Ten Commandments should best be viewed not as a set of rigid, unbreakable rules (for what punishment should a humanist fear from breaking them?). Rather, these should be read more as strongly-worded suggestions for living, the kinds of ideas that, if everyone followed them, might make the world a better place all around.

    THE HUMANIST TEN COMMANDMENTS

    1) Thou shalt strive to promote the greater good of humanity before all selfish desires.

    2) Thou shalt be curious, for asking questions is the only way to find answers.

    3) Harm to your fellow human is harm to humanity. Therefore, thou shalt not kill, rape, rob, or otherwise victimize anyone.

    4) Thou shall treat all humans as equals, regardless of race, gender, age, creed, identity, orientation, physical ability, or status.

    5) Thou shalt use reason as your guide. Science, knowledge, observation, and rational analysis are the best ways to determine any course of action.

    6) Thou shalt not force your beliefs onto others, nor insist that yours be the only and correct way to live happily.

    7) If thou dost govern, thou shalt govern with reason, not with superstition. Religion should have no place in any government which represents all people and beliefs.

    8) Thou shalt act for the betterment of your fellow humans, and be, whenever possible, altruistic in your deeds.

    9) Thou shalt be good to the Earth and its bounties, for without it, humankind is lost.

    10) Thou shalt impart thy knowledge and wisdom gained in your lifetime to the next generation, so that with each passing century, humanity will grow wiser and more humane.”

    How could a person possibly reason and discuss these?

    • asdf says

      THE HUMANIST TEN COMMANDMENTS

      1) Thou shalt strive to promote the greater good of humanity before all selfish desires.

      Why? What has humanity ever done for me? It doesn’t even seem to be a good description of human behavior as actually experienced ever. You can sometimes get human beings to put loved ones first, or to obey a social contract with a specific (not universal) set of humans for practical purposes. But promote the greater good of all humanity? I don’t think anyone has ever done this.

      What’s worse, many who have tried to do this have done great evil (remember those guys who were going to liberate the working class).

      2) Thou shalt be curious, for asking questions is the only way to find answers.

      Against murderism….

      3) Harm to your fellow human is harm to humanity. Therefore, thou shalt not kill, rape, rob, or otherwise victimize anyone.

      Most religions came up with this.

      4) Thou shall treat all humans as equals, regardless of race, gender, age, creed, identity, orientation, physical ability, or status.

      Why? Some groups treat me better than others. I have more in common with some than others. It doesn’t compute why I should do this. It also doesn’t describe how a single person in the world actually acts.

      5) Thou shalt use reason as your guide. Science, knowledge, observation, and rational analysis are the best ways to determine any course of action.

      Against murderism…

      6) Thou shalt not force your beliefs onto others, nor insist that yours be the only and correct way to live happily.

      Against murderism…

      Beyond that, its kind of a call towards non-judgementalism, but not the good kind. The kind with no standards.

      7) If thou dost govern, thou shalt govern with reason, not with superstition. Religion should have no place in any government which represents all people and beliefs.

      Meaningless

      8) Thou shalt act for the betterment of your fellow humans, and be, whenever possible, altruistic in your deeds.

      Again, why? And what is this “whenever possible” line? Should there be times when I’m not acting for the betterment of my fellow humans?

      9) Thou shalt be good to the Earth and its bounties, for without it, humankind is lost.

      Against murderism…

      10) Thou shalt impart thy knowledge and wisdom gained in your lifetime to the next generation, so that with each passing century, humanity will grow wiser and more humane.”

      How?

      • Heather Hastie says

        I could argue against every one of your points, but I suspect you wouldn’t listen. So, I’ll just stick with one:

        “3) Harm to your fellow human is harm to humanity. Therefore, thou shalt not kill, rape, rob, or otherwise victimize anyone.

        Most religions came up with this.”

        Do you really think that these things were okay before religion came along? If you’re relying on the Bible as your example, it’s pretty clear that it thinks some of those things ARE okay. There is no censure of rape in the Bible, and the fifth commandant translates as “Thou shall not murder,” not “Thou shall not kill.” The Catholic Church even has a “Just War” doctrine which provides the circumstances that allow killing. As for general victimization, women are second-class citizens throughout the Bible, and slavery is also accepted as being okay, including by Jesus.

        • Bob Johnson says

          Before Christianity came to Europe, polygamy, temple prostitution, selfishness, and infanticide were widespread. All were made illegal as Christianity replaced paganism.

          Greco-Roman culture severely devalued women, with prostitution being widespread and women being married in their teenage years. Christianity ended both.

          Women are given equal status to men throughout the Bible, and one of the striking things that Our Lord did was that He spoke to women as equals, something not done by males in positions of authority at the time. Feminism would not exist for Christianity

          The idea of inherent human dignity, and of all humans bearing obligations to others, did nto exist before abrahmic religions

          https://www.amazon.com/Shame-Sin-Christian-Transformation-Antiquity/dp/0674660013

          • Heather Hastie says

            Paganism IS religion. The cultures of Greece and Rome were arguably MORE religious than we are today. Christianity did not and had not ended prostitution, and it sounds like you have a problem with prostitutes but not the men who use them. Women still marry in their teenage years, and this was not ended by Christianity. In the Middle Ages, the Church presided over the marriages of children, especially among royalty.

            Women are not given equal status in the Bible. The accurate translation of the translation of creation of Eve gives her equal status, but this was deliberately mistranslated by the arch-misogynist (St) Jerome in the Vulgate to give men dominion over women. The Church knew this and has always known this, but it has never corrected the error.

            Both Christianity and Islam made widespread use of slaves, and how you can consider that a recognition of human dignity I don’t know.

            You should get your information about history and religion from a more reliable source.

        • Nicolaas Stempels says

          Rape raping and killing is condoned in the Bible (or Qur’an for that matter). It is just a question of choosing the victims ‘properly’.

    • Greg Lorriman says

      “4) Thou shall treat all humans as equals, regardless of race, gender, age, creed, identity, orientation, physical ability, or status.”

      Equals in what sense? People are never each others’ equals. There are differences of capability, intelligence, understanding, education, sex/hormone-effects etc etc.

      Equal in dignity? Sure, but then that would be to embrace a Catholic principle. And equality of dignity breaks down with loss of integrity.

      This particular commandments is riddled with issues.

      • asdf says

        In addition to not having any non-religious justification, the equal dignity clause is a mess of problems. Should I treat non family members exactly the same way I treat family members? Should we go open borders because borders assume different people have different rights?

        Most people seem to treat people with varying degrees of rights, obligations, respect based on a complex web of social relations. From, “I would do anything for my family.” To, “we shouldn’t invade and genocide the people in that foreign land…unless we really need their food.”

    • Greg Lorriman says

      “3) Harm to your fellow human is harm to humanity. Therefore, thou shalt not kill, rape, rob, or otherwise victimize anyone.”

      And abortion? What is victimizing? If I tell someone off am I victimizing them? If I spank a naughty child that insists on running across the busy road, am I victimizing it? In the Uk such ‘behaviour’ is defacto banned. You can have you children taken away and be jailed.

      These commandments seem to have been invented out of some proud, middle-aged lady’s doctrate in social governance.

      • KD says

        Even more fun is the morality of circumcision (male and female), animal farming, and morality around “abuse of corpse”. Is it moral to give a Holocaust victim a Mormon ceremony in order to afford them salvation per Mormonism, for example? Assuming religion is bunk, is it moral to permit people to conduct last rites and funeral ceremonies? Is it moral to permit a family to conduct a funeral ceremony in the family’s tradition, even if the deceased has expressly rejected the tradition? What about cannibalism, mutilation of dead bodies, necrophilia? Can love be wrong? Should we eat veal?

        • KD says

          Is it possible there is an optimal limit on the “circle of concern” in any meaningful sense, and that the actual limit (both in practice and from a standpoint of optimization) lies closer to us than the bounds of humanity? This thought used to occur every time the news reported the U.S. government bombed another Iraqi wedding reception and there was no measurable response on the part of the public.

    • Craig Willms says

      Number six is a riot.

      Yes, religious folks over the centuries may not have followed this one, but c’mon today’s moral thought leaders beat you over the head with their beliefs daily and if you stray, well then, ‘you’ll never work in this town again’

    • One of the main issues arising in the 2 sides in these arguments is the attempted reduction of all subjective values (what this author is calling faith) into purely objective terms. There is indeed a correlation, and much of the time, a causation between subjective and objective, but on the most fundamental level you can’t reduce one to the other, and this is where the confusion and the mistakes happen. Those on the objective/secular “side” will always unconsciously bring an unproven but tacitly assumed subjective value into their argument. You can’t prove the fundamental existence of valuing, identity, intention or other subjective measures via objective methodologies. How do you know what love is? Via a biological explanation? Does oxytocin prove your experience of love? If you had no experience of love, would you know what it is? How could you measure its objective correlates if you didn’t know it existed in the first place, existing fundamentally from your scientifically assumed but scientifically unproven premise of a subjective experience?

      Rather than the 2 sides of these arguments (which represent on one hand subjective absolutism vs. objective absolutism, as well as the viewpoint of the human level of development of Mythic Membership vs. that of the human level of development of Rationalism), you can orient the argument in terms (that are scientifically validated) of how successive human levels of development (Magic level, Mythic level, Rationalistic level, Pluralistic level, Integral Level, etc) determine values as well orientation with regards to the subjective and objective. See Spiral Dynamics, Ken Wilber, Suzanne Cook-Greuter.

    • In Vino Veritas says

      Humanism is Judeao/Christiandom lite. The underpinnings of all these arguments lay first within the religious doctrine that created it. Later, it evolved into what you see today.

      The point: these commandments weren’t cut from the whole cloth of thin air. They came from a pre-existing framework. What framework? The innate human good?
      Really? Ever raise children? I have. They are absolutely fantastic little creatures. Moral? Not even a little bit. They have some built-in wiring harnesses, but the moral circuitry is laid by society. Even humanists agree.

      Here comes the doublespeak. Children have pre-dispositions (assuming you believe the overwhelming evidence that supports this). These pre-dispositions are then linked into their upbringing and responses to that upbringing. This upbringing happens within a cultural framework. This cultural framework determines what is acceptable and what is unacceptable. Cultural frameworks have strong ties to taboos and religious realms of thought. Throughout history, no society existed without some form of religion. Religion informs the past, which cultures the present, and carries into the future. I am an atheist, but I understand where my morality comes from.

      This is pretty consistent and self evident.

      As to the humanistic ideals:

      Harm? Define harm. If I harm someone who is attempting to harm my children and thus prevent it? Is that harm? Which harm is the greater?

      If I believe that conception begins at birth and commit property damage. Is that harm? No person at the clinic was injured, but in my worldview I just saved hundreds of lives. Doesn’t that make it a ‘Greater Good’. I am pro-choice, but I am not blind to the belief of decent people who don’t agree.

      If as a parent I cause discomfort to my children in order to help them grow and discourage harmful behavior, is that harm?

      Harm is relative. The choice between two harms is sometimes the only choice. Life in its complexity exists in that space. Not at the edges, but in the messy middle.

      As to reason: A lot of humanists are far-left activists. Apparently they failed both history and statistical analysis. Correlation does not equal causality (unless it fits the narrative). Also, Communism is based in rationalism. That didn’t go well either.

      “Though shalt be curious” – unless you talk about sex difference or IQ, or a dozen other things that are off limits. Why? Because a ‘good’ person would understand. This is assumed wisdom aka religion.

      “Imparting wisdom” – That is what John Staddon and others like him have tried to do. Wisdom is lost on the idealogically possessed.

      • In Vino Veritas says

        I meant ‘life begins at conception’ not ‘conception begins at birth’. Heheh, that was weird wording.

  2. For social animals living in enduring groups, the is/ought gap can be overcome by the existential desire to preserve the enduring group from threats. This doesn’t mean all animals in the enduring group have to desire that their group survive, nor does it mean that enduring groups have to act consistently in favor of their survival.

    All you need is a security competition between enduring groups, and the weak groups will get absorbed or erased by the strong groups. Further, if you have a security competition between enduring groups, members of the group who don’t care about their group’s survival will suffer the fate of free riders, which probably is proportional to the percentage of free riders and the risk perception of group threat.

    Carolyn Marvin wrote an excellent paper on the paradoxical nature of the interests of individual and groups, wherein individual interests often coincide with group interests, but sometimes directly contradict:

    chrome-extension://oemmndcbldboiebfnladdacbdfmadadm/https://repository.upenn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1394&context=asc_papers

    Morality, in sign-using social animals, is a technology for getting individuals to sacrifice themselves (in small and large ways) on behalf of the enduring group.

    If security competition between groups drives morality, then reason and empiricism can be brought to bear in the examination of whether practice X, Y or Z actually preserves and strengthens the enduring group, or weakens it. Of course, many will reject this analysis of the nature of the good, and even among those that accept it, there will not necessarily be consensus on whether, for example, broad free speech rights strengthen or weaken a nation. So the broad problem of a lack of consensus on the nature of the good remains (but religion does no better than secular thought here, as there are lots of religions and sects with different ideas about the good just as there are divergent strands of secular thinkers).

    However, the logic of this position seems inexorable. Those that ignore it will ultimately see their communities wiped off the face of the planet. [Suicide may not be wrong, but a community of suicides will not leave a heavy foot print on the future, and those communities that survive will discourage their youth from committing suicide.]

    • The problem of universal ethics is much harder than morality. Morality must always be contextualized to an enduring group in competition with another enduring group. Ethics, claiming to be universal, essentially divorces the individual from the communal and historical context which gives morality its meaning. Western Civilization has historically had a deeper understanding that the universal can only be incarnate in the particular, and it is this appreciation of nominalism that modern ethicists seem to lack.

      • James Lee says

        @KD

        Have you read Iain McGilchrist’s work The Master and His Emissary? It’s a fascinating book.

        What you are describing- the modern trend which disembeds a particular context from the web of related, enmeshed and always evolving contexts- is exactly the meta-movement he describes as responsible for so many disfiguring aspects of modernity.

        It’s also highlighted in Yoram Hazony’s work, who argues that many of the fundamental principles of the West- due process, presumption of innocence, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, etc- were historically contingent, evolved phenomena, dependent upon the specific conditions that pertained to the anglo tradition.

        These norms aren’t just sitting there in a vacuum (like Plato’s forms), easily accessible to any “right thinking” armchair Rationalist. There is no reason to think they will work in a radically different context, something the utopian neocons couldn’t understand in their Arthurian quest to bring Liberal Democracy to the Middle East.

        Many of our current elites appear besotted with a similar utopianism. Hell, the neocons never went away- they have even been featured in Quillette (Boot), and one of them is actually in the White House (Bolton), despite being utterly discredited by historical events.

        But that’s another feature of the modern age- no Skin in the Game, as Nicholas Taleb says. Our elites can make catastrophic mistake after catastrophic mistake with little to zero repercussions. Hence it’s no surprise these people are driving us off a cliff.

    • augustine says

      In more practical terms, why is there so much consternation over the idea that “enduring groups” can (and do) persist in their own ways? Are there thinkers in this area who cannot stand the idea of human groups in competition (with ugly to beautiful results)? The modern cry for universal ethics, including humanism, seems to be motivated by a perceived opportunity to flatten man’s moral condition across all populations and into the future. Why?

      • KD says

        Liberalism as a political project has always been focused on supplanting a security competition with an economic one. Liberals argue that international trade will overcome national conflicts, even though it historically has not been the case. JP is being a good liberal in railing against collective identities. Neoclassical economic perspectives generally treat people as commodities and then abstract commodities into pure mathematical models. But the difference between a person and a rock is that a person possesses historical memory, and two people with different languages, cultures, and historically conditioned identities will never interchangeable the way gravel is. Pretending otherwise is simply a good destablization strategy.

        Some liberals are motivated by a desire for peace (even though liberalism has increasingly become a casus belli for proactive war), some liberals want to expand markets across the planet for commercial benefits, some liberal’s liberalism relates to their own perceived interests of their own “enduring groups”. Not all enduring groups are violent, but nonviolent enduring groups are parasitic on tolerance from violent enduring groups, and a sprawling, relatively tolerant empire is probably the best context for these groups to persist.

        The problem with “arm chair” theorists is that they fail to spend sufficient time developing a decent descriptive model before they take flight into a normative ideal. This probably has something to do with the is/ought gap, entitling them to ignore the “is” while dreaming of an “ought”. On the other hand, you have the Sam Harris types who claim that ethics can be turned into some kind of science, which ignore the descriptive fact that while an enduring group can reach a consensus on the good (albeit through a process that has little resemblance to a rational open debate), humans have never been able to reach an agreement on the good.

        Obviously, group competition has an important explanatory role in this problem. If a particular idea benefits Russia at the expense of America, the Russians will likely view it as good, and the Americans will view it as bad. But experience shows that history sometimes produces surprises, there are few traders who always end up on the best side of the bargain, and few generals who always win the battle. We just don’t know what is best for ourselves or our enduring groups, and we all bring different perspectives and biases to the inquiry. It is likely that two people with the same loyalties and perhaps even the same education can have a good faith disagreement on the best way forward (the good). Liberalism on first blush provides a means for dealing with value pluralism, but in actual practice, liberals quickly identify enemies who threaten the foundations of liberalism and persecute them just as fast as any Fascist or Communist regime ever did. Look at how the Progressives have reacted to Trump and his people.

      • KD says

        I think the practical issue of “faith” is that faith entails a kind of fanaticism. In the struggle for power, a fanatical group has a leg up on a mercenary group. If you are not particularly fanatical, fanatics are a threat, as you are afraid if a group of fanatics gangs up on you, you will be toast. On the other hand, if the fanatics are fighting on your side–especially if you perceive your group as facing extinction, your attitude probably positive. I think a lot of liberalism comes down to an aversion to fanaticism, whether religious or patriotic jingoist or totalitarian/ideological, and I think that attitude has a relationship to enduring groups in a larger matrix of competition. If you look at the SJW’s, they are basically Progressive fanatics, but they receive better publicity than the Neo-Nazis and the Islamists, presumably because they are “our fanatics” in the struggle for purity as we define it.

        As you can be a mad bomber for secular humanism as easily as you can be a mad bomber for the Islamic State, people want to identify fanatics espousing secular ideologies as “religious” or “quasi-religious” but I think that confuses the issue. The fundamental question is what, if anything, a person will sacrifice their life in service of, which we could call “religious”, and necessary to fight off your competition. But religion is defined historically and culturally, whereas secular ideologies are modern productions, even when they attempt to take on religious features (Fascist ritualism for example). So a distinction between secular ideologies and religion stands.

  3. Dave M says

    I hope Jerry Coyne doesn’t respond to this one. Does anyone know a browser addon I can use to block an article I don’t care about from my Twitter feed? If I see this again, or anything related to it again, I’d like to squelch it immediately. (This isn’t the first; it’s just the last straw. There are other articles that made the rounds through the “IDW” that I ended up seeing tweeted 5+ times or worse, that I lost all patience for.)

    • Concerned for Dave M says

      You poor thing. Let me get my violin out to play a dirge for you.

      It might be hard to hear it though – it’s a really small violin. Some say it’s the world’s smallest.

  4. Blasphemer says

    “In general, the moral strictures of religion are alone relevant to policy. And the secularists have just as many of those as their religious opponents. In other words, in all the ways that matter for action, secularists and religious believers do not differ.”

    Really? Can the moral dictates of religion be revised in light of new evidence? Can secular ones? How does a professor of science come to this conclusion? What is happening at Duke University?

    • asdf says

      Religious dogma changes all the time in response to new evidence. However, established religions are conservative institutions that change slower than the zeitgeist, especially in periods of rapid zeitgeist shifting like today. This is sometimes a bug, but usually a feature. Not every half baked idea of moral panic the zeitgeist spits up is worth tossing aside century and millennia old empirically tested solutions of social organization.

  5. Greg Lorriman says

    “It really doesn’t matter whether a judge or a politican believes in God or the virgin birth, unless such beliefs lead him—in violation of the First Amendment—to block the teaching of biology.”

    Which is really a form of abuse of the constitution.

    The government provides a public service for a matter which is very much of the private sphere: the education of children.

    It should be up to the parents what their children are taught, and if that means government having to spend more money to accommodate different classrooms for humanist kids and religious kids then so be it.

    The intent of the constitution was to avoid religions attempting coercion of others through government organs, not to completely remove religious or quasi-religious accommodations from public services.

    On another note: ironically, none of Christianity has ever had a formal teaching of a literal interpretation of the Bible. Many more educated Christians, for example, believe in both Adam and Eve and evolution from apes, the Big Bang etc. Not just the virgin birth. The Big Bang theory was invented by a Catholic priest. The father of modern genetics is a Catholic monk.

    • Greg,

      “a matter which is very much of the private sphere: the education of children.”

      No, the well-being and education of children is a legitimate concern of society at large.

      • Peter from Oz says

        Coel

        In fact both statements are true. But the private concern far outweighs the the public’s concern in the matter.

        In any case, society and the State are not the same thing.

  6. Professor Staddon’s reply fails.

    He is portraying the basis for morals of one group as equivalent to the basis of morals of another when the two sets have come about, and are maintained, through substantially different processes. It is a false equivalence to call both “faith” in an identical sense (though Quillette is again partly to blame for overemphasizing this aspect).

    The difference in the basis of the two sets of morals (religious and secular) is their epistemological process. With religious morals, the standards are revealed by a Deity and are eternally binding law against which any infraction is always a moral wrong [deontology].

    With secular morals, this is clearly not the case. One may begin with an arbitrary set of oughts, then evaluate them (i.e. compare them to their effects on reality [consequentialism], to our higher intuitions of good [virtue theory], to what allows survival [pragmatism], or to a mix of all three things [eclecticism]—all of which are considerations of “is” in a very real sense), and finally toss out the oughts which don’t hold up as well relative to other oughts. The result is that we can constantly prune away supposed morals that don’t hold up—though the limitation is that (like with science) we can never “prove” a moral good, only “falsify” them as ones that are bad. Secular morality is then like a developing network of moral axia going through dialectical processes, if you will.

    As such, secular approaches to morality allow for a refinement of the moral standards on the basis of what “is”, while religious ones present themselves as coming from a perfect source.

    This is a radical (and rational) distinction in process—one which Staddon ignores, Hume doesn’t explore in the quote, and Coyne needs to discuss—that has clear implications regarding what we can judge to be the more likely course of action that will achieve Good.

    Secular morals are rationally examined by organic engagement with the real world. Religious ones are much more arbitrary—assuming a basis in perfect revelation written down in perfect documents and presented for concurrent moral concerns with correct interpretation. Each of those steps takes faith—nothing about the secular process requires it.

    • Stephanie says

      TI, morals that are corrected with new evidence is certainly the secular goal, but in practice we have the same religious thinking, just divorced from history. See the first comment, where a cringe-y secular 10 Commandments from the Humanist Society appropriates morals already put forward by religion, and make up some vague and confused ones.

      Secular morals, in practice, represent the flavour of the month. That makes them less examined than religious morals, which have been distilled from collective group existence for thousands of years. Not all religions were equally up to the task, of course, with some little more than cults putting forward morals that legitimized their leader’s bad behaviour, but the ones that got it about right are vindicated by the societies they produced. Sadly humanist morals can only run on the fumes of that process, at best, and lead to an equally dangerous fundamentalism at worst (communism, DIE).

  7. Greg Lorriman says

    But what is faith?

    It for sure is not “Belief without evidence” which is an atheist redefinition with no etymological roots by Bertrand Russell, atheist, he the famous source of that dumbfounding misrepresentation of religious belief, the Teapot analogy. Fallacy by presumption.

    Logically a god could prove its own existence, just as Christians claim is the basis of authentic faith. Look it up in the Catholic Catechism paragraph 150.

    And typical atheists, meanwhile, cannot prove there isn’t a god yet they are so certain that they talk of “The God Delusion”, and are dismissive of religion other than to be manipulated for political purposes. This constitutes a positive belief that there is no god.

    So a religious person may be rational, supposing there is a god and it is revealing itself properly.

    But the typical atheist is irrational whether or not there is a god.

    Indeed, “Belief without proof” applies to themselves, in a most marvellous twist of irony.

    Poor old atheists, not just completely wrong and under a deep delusion and a very dry old life, but wrong on every count. For instance the falsehood that all the religions are in conflict, when yet almost all the monotheisms define their supreme beings the same way: personal, loving, just, but merciful (at least to the merciful). And most of them acknowledge each other in some way and are not exclusivist (excepting Islam and protestants). Even the rigid old Catholic Church explicitly teaches that God has manifested to some extent in most other monotheisms (eg, the 3 wise men are thought to have been Zorastrian).

    Or what about “Who made God?”, Dawkins main argument. Yet Thomas Aquinas answered that centuries ago. The man’s an ignoramus. And why does he never care to mention that much of Christianity is not Biblically literalist. Meanwhile calling religious education from parents child abuse? The man does not believe in parents doing the best as they know for their children. He believes in his god-forsaken faith as an absolute. Meanwhile, more physicists believe in a god than biologists. He has done science a grave disservice.

    • Greg, what an amazing collection of strawmen you’ve collected there! As just one example:

      “And why does he never care to mention that much of Christianity is not Biblically literalist.”

      He has done, often. And:

      “Yet Thomas Aquinas answered that centuries ago.”

      Sure, and are you aware of the atheists’ reply to that?

    • Allan Revesz says

      I’m making the assumption that you are an Abrahamic. Have you proven the non existence of Buda? Or the many Hindi gods? or the Norse gods, or the Roman?

  8. AJ says

    This is a huge improvement over the previous article by John Staddon and it claims something interesting and defensible – that a moral code cannot be derived purely from logic but must be based on principles which are not derived from logic. and therefore all moral codes are based on faith. This is not beyond dispute but it is a reasonable argument.

    The problem is that this a massive retreat and essentially a concession that everthing in the original article was wrong. The original article went far beyond this to claim secular humanism was a religon, that secular humanism was malign and the dominant force in US politics. The original article was nonsense and understandably was deluged by negative comments and critical articles.

    The far more limitted claim in this article is interesting and would have made a good article and prompted an interesting debate, as a response to the criticism of the first article it is deeply dishonest. It is a tacit admission that the original articles claims are insupportable and false a d the criticism justified.

    • A C Harper says

      Quite so. There’s a general confusion (not just in the articles under discussion) between “Faith” and “faith”, “Belief” and “belief”, “Moral” and “moral”, “Knowledge” and “knowledge”.

      You can reasonably argue that Religion promotes “Faith, Belief, and Morals” derived from the supernatural “Knowledge”, and that secular humanism contains “faith, belief, and morals” arising from enquiry (knowledge).

      Whether this confusion is deliberate, accidental or perhaps a way of coping with cognitive dissonance, is another question.

      • Curtis says

        The relevant difference to the individual is that “Faith, Belief, and Morals” lead to a life filled with Purpose and Meaning while one possessing “faith, belief, and morals” may meander the path of purpose and meaning but ultimately reaches its end with existential nihilism.

        • A C Harper says

          Yet people who follow different gods have different “Faith, Belief, and Morals” and so different
          “Purposes” and “Meanings”. They cannot all be “Right”.

          Plus existential nihilism is not necessarily the ultimate outcome of holding “faith, belief, and morals” or a meandering path of purpose and meaning. There is some risk, just as there is some risk of religiously inspired insanity.

  9. “Moreover, in no case are secular commandments derivable from reason. Like religious “oughts” they are also matters of faith.”

    No, they are not matters of faith, they are matters of value, matters of human values rooted in human nature.

    “Action requires motive; reason by itself provides no motive; …”

    Which is why Jerry Coyne pointed to human values.

    “But they are largely irrelevant to politics. Hence the truth or falsity of religious myths is also irrelevant, …”

    This is just wrong. It asserts that people’s theology has no affect on how they think more generally, and no affect on their politics. This is not the case.

    “I was saying that in those aspects of religion which actually affect and seek to guide human behavior, secular humanism does not differ from religion.”

    Yes it does. Religion seeks guidance from theology and from the supernatural. Secular humanism does not, it is rooted in human values, not beliefs about the supernatural.

    Jerry Coyne was entirely right.

    • Curtis says

      You say human values are rooted in human nature. Religion too is rooted in human nature, if not, it would not be universal in history. It could not be rooted in the supernatural because by your own admission the supernatural doesn’t exist. Therefore, you might ask yourself why religion is a universal human adaptation before seeking its demise. I would propose that the continuation of the human species with religion is more tenable than without it. The universalism of most religions (i.e. that all humans are inherently valuable and have dignity) promotes cooperation. We are all children of God so let’s work together brother. Without the brainwashing of religion we risk self destruction due the products of existential nihilism.

    • augustine says

      How does faith (or confidence if you like) in reasoning ability-outcome affect human nature and human values? What portion of the values of any particular group comes from reason and what portion comes from their experience outside of reasoning?

  10. dirk says

    At work here is, in this sequence of Staddon- Coyne-Staddon, the so called heurism of Giambattista Vico and Popper, just start with your philosophical construct, present it to an audience, wait for the lacunas or critical notes, and rewrite or adapt the original in order to have a better construct. I wonder whether the sequence will be concluded by Coyne now.
    And I think the second Staddon is indeed an improvement, titles concocted by the editor almost always bring more confusion than clarification ( I have quite some experience with that one).

  11. Jay Baldwin says

    Of the options at issue here one requires the belief in a litany of bullshit. The other does not. They are not the same. Whatever their similarities, they are cursory not substantive. To argue otherwise is to dissemble.

    An individual can be kind, merciful, forgiving, and charitable, etc., out of fear of eternal punishment or hope for eternal reward; or, because behaving in such a way results in mutually beneficial social relations. The author wants us to believe that the, “Blessed are the peacemakers [or else!]” crowd is experiencing the same mental state as the, “Peacemaking is worthwhile for its own sake” crowd.

    It’s an argument Jesus himself did not make.

    • augustine says

      I’m curious what difference in response you would expect from people holding either view when they are under episodic, violent attack? Which is more robust and more likely to be passed along?

  12. Fred says

    I think Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas would take issue with the proposition that reason cannot tell us how we ought to act. Only with the rejection of essentialism, natural teleology, and the idea of a type of flourishing proper to creatures of the human sort with the introduction of the mechanistic world view in the early 17th century did Hume’s is/ought distinction become inevitable.

  13. Russ says

    Proper morality is derived from the nature of human beings and what is required for humans to live (at all) and then to live to the best extent possible.

    “Faith,” i.e., believing in X without evidence or (worse) believing X despite evidence/proof that X is wrong, is not required to understand “morality” or anything else about existence. (“Faith” is not the same as “confidence in” something.)

    Too many people confuse “faith” in X with the axioms that lie at the foundation of all knowledge, i.e., The Laws of Identity/Noncontradiction/Excluded Middle. For example, one cannot even disagree with the Law of Identity without confirming the Law of Identity (see Aristotle).

    Conflating the epistemological bases for religion with those of rationality is ignorant, disingenuous, evasion, or a deliberate attempt to commit deception.

    To hold to the old “you cannot derive ‘ought’ from ‘is'” ignores reality, logic, reason, and common sense. What “is” the truth about human nature/existence determines what we “ought” to do if we want to live and flourish.

    This ain’t rocket science, folks…

    • Russ says

      I think it’s funny that a certain poster’s (indirect) reply to my post is simply to list a bunch of philosophers who would “disagree” with me. Yeah. Don’t bother to actually point out — let alone prove — how I am (supposedly) wrong. Just name all these people who never got it right in the first place.

      He accuses me of a straw man fallacy — and since I never mentioned anyone other than Aristotle, how is it that I am misstating the positions of any of the other people he named? — while committing an blatant appeal to authority fallacy, i.e., saying my argument is wrong simply because authorities X, Y, Z, etc. would (supposedly) disagree with me.

      This from someone who thinks the axiom of the Law of Identity is somehow still up for debate. What a joke.

      LOL.

  14. Daniel V says

    I don’t think you need to avoid the R word, religion, at all and say secular humanism is similar to a religion. It is a religion. The brain is not processing secular Humanist narratives distinctinly from narratives we’d label religious, cultural, or political. It’s going to handle a narrative about the big bang in the same way as a narrative about God’s 7 days of hardwork.

    It’s also incorrect to say it lacks a spiritual or mythical/historical aspect shared by other religions. I could provide plenty of examples of secular Humanist speakers talking about the existential freedom of knowing there is no God and that the universe is indifferent to our suffering. Sam Harris even wrote a book about secular spirituality.

    Another good example of both the spiritual and the mythological aspects of secular humanism can be found with both Cosmos documentary series. Sagan filled the original series with lots spiritual themes. In the second series we hear the myth of Giordano Bruno that is presented as a story of an innocent martyr for science killed by a church that feared science and reason. The reality is Bruno was executed for theological heresies that had little to do with his scientific work at all. The chruch was in fact very open to science and further to this Catholicism actually requires reasoned logical argument behind interpretation of scripture. Consider that this same church also built the ivory towers of the Western world. Doesn’t make much sense to me that they’d expend such a huge amount of resources for a project they were inherently opposed to. There was no state holding a gun (crossbow?) to their heads forcing them to do this either.

    Which leads to one of the biggest myths I see put forth by secular Humanists like Coyne, folk I’d be more comfortable labelling new atheists, with their argument reason and faith are in opposition to each other. As I mentioned above the Catholic chruch doesn’t see this as being true, nor do a variety of traditions, and the idea itself has an ism: Fideism. Now Fideism is normally a prejoritive term hurled at specific Christian denominations that strongly believe faith and reason are incompatible. They are the folk that take the Bible to be 100 percent literal in all aspects. They are the people who see science as an attack on their faith and fight to stop evolution being taught in schools.

    New atheists are very much cut from the same cloth. Coyne has written entire books arguing a Fiedist position expect instead of showing hostility towards reason he’s against faith. The Skeptics Annotated Bible, a popular document among new atheists, is essentially a giant exercise in taking the Bible in an absolutely literal sense then pointing how absurd it is when taken that way. While it’s true some Christian denominations do approach the Bible this way it’s curious that approach itself is never questioned and is instead presented as an absolute fact.

    Since I could ramble on about this forever I’ll make the final point that I am on fact someone who identifies as a secular Humanist and agnostic. Yet without fail when I post my opinions on this subject I get identified as a Christian or highly religious. Much in the same way someone pushing against Christian dogma would be labelled an atheist. The article this one is responding to is also an example of Coyne becoming offended by the suggestions his religion was a religion at all since one of the sacred values of his religion is religion is always bad and always irrational. Such a claim is offensive and absurd to him despite the fact, as I’ve argued above, the fundemental claim is not universally true.

    • “It is a religion. The brain is not processing secular Humanist narratives distinctinly from narratives we’d label religious, cultural, or political.”

      Well ok, if you’re going to say that a vast swathe of things, from political activity to playing golf with mates to volunteering for a charity, to organising your kids to play football are also “religious”. But that makes the term pretty meaningless.

      • Daniel V says

        Well what exactly is the difference between a political ideology based on narratives, like pull up your boot straps, and a religious one?

        I’ll agree that the various categories we use to define different groupings of narratives is useful because those groups do carry certain distinctions but I’d still argue the brain doesn’t make that distinction and it’s ultimately a moot point. All the categories influence each other and can’t be separated.

        • A religious narrative involves supernatural beings such as gods and life after death; a political narrative is about society here and now.

          • Peter from Oz says

            Coel
            Not true. Old religions relied on Gods, modern religions just rely on some nebulous thing like ”public good” or ”nature”

    • Andrew Roddy says

      It is we, we alone, who have dreamed up the causes, the one-thing-after-another, the one-thing-reciprocating-another, the relativity, the constraint, the numbers, the laws, the freedom, the ‘reason why,’ the purpose. … We are creating myths.
      Nietzsche

    • KD says

      It is true that the New Atheists approach to the exegesis of the Holy Books is akin to the reactions of Xi of the San People in finding an empty coca cola bottle in that famous film The God’s Must Be Crazy.

      However, I don’t think the New Atheists are ignorant of the fact that their approach to the Holy Books is very different from every major denomination of Christianity, its just part of their rhetorical shtick which they must find persuasive because they always do it.

      I find it rather strange because it strikes me that the issue is not overcoming God, but overcoming God’s Death that is salient to the present.

      • Andrew Roddy says

        @KD
        Regarding the reports of God’s death we might still do well to leave open the possibility that they have been greatly exaggerated. He has a proven track record of being adaptive, resilient and blessed with an extraordinary auto-immune system. It is true that lately He seems to have cut down on some of his speaking engagements but there is a tendency, particularly in the vulgar press, to jump from this to sensationalist conclusions.

          • Andrew Roddy says

            Ah good. A hint of healthy, old-fangled theocidal passion.

    • KD says

      In a prior age, we had pictures and statutes of concepts, like Justice or Heaven or the Messenger, because basically everyone was illiterate.

      In a literate age, we have written ideologies, about Justice and the Kingdom of Heaven and his Messenger.

      In a prior age, man killed for his gods, today, man kills for his ideals. I suppose for an atheist, the medium is the message.

  15. … perhaps because he is confused about what I said. Or perhaps I was too concise.

    Or perhaps because you were (intentionally?) obtuse. Your even greater brevity here has not alleviated that obtuseness.

  16. Fred says

    @Russ, Jeez, you could feed a stable of horses with the sraw in that man. Reason is inherently opposed to faith? That would be news to Augustine, Aquinas, Averroes, Scotus, Suarez, Leibniz, Descartes, Newton, Boyle, Coleridge, MacIntyre, Taylor, Plantinga and a host of others. I’m not saying I agree with all those figures’ arguments, but you cannot accuse them of rejecting reason or arguing from subjectively experienced faith. Also, you are wrong about is and ought given the mechanistic universe posited by Descartes. Arisotle’s arguments only work in the context of his metaphysics, a metaphysics that is still viable. See especally the work of Edward Feser, John Haldane, Elizabeth Anscombe, David Oderberg, Nancy Cartwright, and Gyula Klima.

    @Daniel, Hear! Hear! I generally agree with the thrust of the articles here, but I’m constantly annoyed by the authors’ and commenters’ blind acceptance of Enlightenment mythology and conventional wisdom about religion and the Middle Ages. The Medieval Church rejected rational debate? Three seconds googling “medieval disputatio” would dispel that nonsense. They knew nothing about cosmology (a claim made in another post)? Again nonsense. They didn’t yet have the scientific method of testing hypotheses by controlled experimentation, but they were perfectly capable of empirical observation. Their cosmology was not based solely on faith or a priori reasoning. The Ptolemaic model of the cosmos made many very accurate predictions about celestial phenomena. In fact, it was more accurate than early heliicentric models. That was one problem Galileo had. His cosmology was unproven at the time, and his defense of it was flawed. The folks here need to put down their Andrew Dickson White and John William Draper (thoroughly discredited historians), their Steven Pinker (not a historian or philosopher of science at all), and their Gnu Atheists (extremely historically and phliosophically uninformed dogmatists) and pick up their James Hannam, Pierre Duhem, and Stanley Jaki.

    • Daniel V says

      @Fred I find it very ironic that someone like Coyne, such a huge advocate for evolution, has yet to grasp the fact that cultural systems evolve. He still looks at religion as being something imposed on humanity instead of emergent from. Just like libertarians do with the state, feminists do with patriarchy, MRAs do with Feminism, and so on.

      What really bothers me about the entire thing is, as you’ve said, it takes quick google search to confirm many of their beliefs are not true. It just boogles my mind that such highly educated people can be so dogmatic and deluded.

      • Peter from Oz says

        Daniel V
        Great point. We all think that a belief system which we think wrong has been imposed upon us unnaturally. Of course this doesn’t mean that these belief systems are not wrong, it just means that we cannot claim that they are wrong merely because they are not totally objective.

        • augustine says

          It does seem that things we strongly disagree with have been imposed on us somehow. And what of ideas we agree with, that seem right to us? These appear to be more naturally derived, even self-evident or inevitable (and often transient at the same time). It is like friends on the playground whose origin is somewhat mysterious but never really questioned. But there must be a portal from a Bad Place that delivers bullies to our midst.

  17. … in no case are secular commandments derivable from reason. Like religious “oughts” they are also matters of faith. Secular morals are as unprovable as the morals of religion.

    In your first article, you list Sam Harris as one of the “public intellectuals” from whom humanist “dogma” comes. You obviously missed Harris’ introduction to The Moral Landscape where he lays out his reasoning for objective — as opposed to relative — morality, starting from the assumption that it’s in everyone’s best interest to create a world where the least amount of overall suffering, and the greatest amount of overall happiness, exists. If one considers this a cartesian first assumption, so be it. Yet it also is grounded in cooperative behavior among our social animal ancestors.

    A case can actually be made that the moral principles of many capital-H Humanists are indeed essentially unsubstantiated ‘revealed truths’ and thus dogma. But in your rushed tu quoque defense of religious faith-driven reasoning, you paint all small-h humanists with the same brush. Your chief nemesis, Dr. Coyne, has frequently spoken out against blindly accepting many of your examples of Humanist (rather, regressive leftist) dogma: halloween costumes as ‘violence’, ‘cultural appropriation’, the evolved fitness of homosexuality, the conflation of sex and gender ID, the “essential sameness of mean and women”. etc.

  18. April 28, 2019:

    I wasn’t saying that secular humanism is a religion.

    April 11, 2019:

    It is therefore as much a religion as any other.

  19. dirk says

    Childish discussion, because: what is actually religion? and what is (secular)humanism ?, I fear, many things fit under the hoods. But……good recipe for endless discussions, of course!!! Nice, cozy, comfortable.

  20. David Doyal says

    “starting from the assumption that it’s in everyone’s best interest to create a world where the least amount of overall suffering, and the greatest amount of overall happiness, exists”

    Why should we blindly accept that this is true, and also the Truth from which our moral system should flow?
    Two thousand years ago, another group “discovered the Truth about how we should all live….and they proceeded proselytize us and ultimately force us all to behave according to their moral Truths. Some feel that history is about to repeat itself in the form of Humanism. That is the commonality with religionr that is sensed by many.

  21. I’m sure Prof. Staddon doesn’t need my sympathy, but I sympathize with him nonetheless. He wrote an article in which he clearly does not claim that secular humanism is a religion. Prof. Coyne then falsely accused him of claiming that secular humanism is a religion, using this false accusation as the basis for his assertion that the article was “the worst ever” to appear at Quillette. Prof. Staddon responded by stating very politely what should have been obvious to anyone who gave his original article a fair reading in the first place – that Prof. Coyne’s response was based on a false premise. It would be nice if Prof. Coyne would now simply admit the truth and apologize but, human nature being what it is, I strongly doubt that will happen.

    IMHO Prof. Staddon’s article is one of the best that’s ever appeared at Quillette, not the worst. It addresses a very fundamental problem; the tendency of secular humanists to insist on tinkering with the law based on novel and constantly mutating versions of morality that lack even the fig leaf of a God to provide them with any reasonable claim to legitimacy or authority. This tendency is certainly predictable for our species, but it is also irrational. In fact, it is simply one aspect of an even bigger problem; our inability to understand and rationally respond to our moral nature.

    Secular humanist apologists among the commenters assure us that their moral claims are not similar to religious moral claims, because they are more rational and flexible. They can be refined and make progress towards the “Good.” Unfortunately, this “Good” of theirs doesn’t exist. It is an illusion. All they are really saying is, “Unlike religious morality, my version of morality is rational and flexible, and so can be refined and make progress towards satisfying my emotional whims.” That’s all their “Good” actually is, and yet they seriously believe it automatically possesses a magical authority to dictate behavior to others via the law.

    Lost in such claims is the very fact that morality is rooted in emotions, and wouldn’t exist, at least as we know it, absent these emotions. The claims are based on the assumption that the emotional basis of morality can simply be ignored, and “oughts” and “ought nots” tinkered and cobbled together as if these emotional constraints didn’t exist at all. In other words, secular humanism is just a warmed over version of John Stuart Mill’s Blank Slate utilitarianism, and just as chimerical.

    I’m afraid Prof. Staddon has Darwin on his side on this one. Just read Chapter IV of “The Descent of Man.” If that’s not clear enough for you, read the first chapter of Westermarck’s “The Origin and Development of the Moral Ideas.” If that’s not enough, read Haidt’s “The Righteous Mind,” and, if you still don’t get it, all I can suggest is that you start wading through the ocean of books that have been rolling off the presses lately about “evolved morality,” and the expression of morality in animals. Consider the obvious implications if morality is an expression of evolved emotions. Natural selection is just that, a natural process. It does not make progress towards anything, nor does it have any goal or function in mind. It has no mind. The same applies to morality if it is the result of that natural process. In short, Darwinism and secular humanism are mutually exclusive and the latter is really nothing but an expression of blind faith, just as Prof. Staddon claims. Emotional whims have no intrinsic authority whatsoever, and yet, as he points out, secular humanists persist in claiming that the law must be based on these whims. When one considers that the emotions involved evolved in times radically different from the present, it should be abundantly obvious that it can’t be assumed that they will even have the same results now as they did then. Furthermore, there is no basis whatsoever for the claim that those results, namely, survival and reproduction of the relevant genes, are “Good in themselves.” The secular humanist rationale for meddling with the law is based on a fantasy. It is not only irrational, but potentially dangerous as well.

  22. I still prefer my humanist “commandments” over your religious ones. They can be discussed and, therefore, they are not really commandments and are all the better for it. This post takes the long way round to conclude essentially “humanists believe things too!” Yes, yes we do.

    • Harbinger says

      …but therein lies the problem Paul. Not really being “commandments” as you say, humanist beliefs about how we ought to act, fail to command a robust consensus, across the swath of humanity.

      And as demonstrated by this comments thread, the “discussion” about it all becomes interminable.

      But don’t get me (or other Quillette sceptics) wrong on this. Saying humanists are merely human when it comes to having a faith based template for action, is not to say that we all have to succumb to acceptance of the supernatural. We are less blind than a thousand years ago, but that does not mean we should blindly ignore the wisdom of earlier eras, just because that wisdom is wrapped with religious faith.

  23. Andrew Roddy says

    I am thinking that the most pertinent similarity between secularism and religion here might be our tendency to identify ourselves by them. If secularism was as secular as it aspires to be perhaps we ought to have no ‘securalists’. If secularists can tell me that they don’t define themselves in significant part by what they perceive themselves not to be; ie. Religious, then I will have to struggle to find the good manners and humility to believe them. I imagine I see copious evidence in the comment section here and in the related articles that, in practice, they do. I further imagine that, on that our journey into the post-secular era, the usage and nuance of the word ‘religious’ is expanding effortlessly and naturally to include them. If there is any truth in this then no amount of Jesuitical reasoning will stem this tide.

    • jakesbrain says

      Their lack of religion is as fundamental to their conception of themselves as others’ religions are to them.

  24. TJR says

    Hmm. Jerry Coyne’s article stormed the outer Bailey, so this article retreats back to the Motte.

  25. Forget Hume.

    Two of the normative branches of philosophy are:
    Ethics — how one ought to act in one’s personal life for its enrichment and success.
    Politics — how behavior ought to be governed among people.

    It is a big error to conflate the two.

    Ethics does not require the declaration and enforcement of a “Universal Truth.” The individual’s results will tell him if his chosen code of ethics provides wisdom for his survival and flourishing.

    Politics (government) need only rectify violations of one citizen on another. It protects against those who think their chosen behavior “ought” to include crime.

    Once you see that ethics is a personal choice, not automatically imbued, it becomes vividly clear that the “is” (existence) of oneself depends on a wise choice of one’s “ought.”

    Sundering ‘ought’ from ‘is’ constitutes suicide; greed to impose ethical ought on others constitutes murder.

  26. Randy Tyson says

    Here’s an article in Quillette I vehemently disagree with. Values most definitely do NOT depend on faith. Values don’t operate in a vacuum. They have real effects that can be measured.

    “My argument is simple..”

    As I will show, it is also WRONG.

    “…religions have three characteristics: spiritual, mythical/historical, and moral. Secular humanism lacks the first two and is often quite critical of these aspects of religion.”

    ‘Spiritual’ is a meaningless word, and who cares about history? Values aren’t good because they’ve been around a long time. They’re good because they are beneficial to individuals and society.

    “But they are largely irrelevant to politics. Hence the truth or falsity of religious myths is also irrelevant as are Coyne’s disproofs of the existence of God.”

    Irrelevant? Ever heard the term ‘fruit of the poisonous tree’? If the stories are mythological, the values derived from them are also divorced from reality. They may be good, they may not be. Again, we are back to assessing values on their effects to determine whether we should keep or abandon them. And as for being irrelevant to politics, that is demonstrably false. Just look at the efforts of the faith-based morality to control women’s reproductive rights.

    “The fact that religious morals are derived from religious stories—myths in Mr. Coyne’s book—does not make them any more dismissible than Mr. Coyne’s morals, which are connected to nothing at all. In his own agnostic terms, all are matters of faith.”

    Again, Jerry’s (and that’s DR Coyne – unlike Kent Hovind, he’s earned the moniker, as have I) values are born of reason, grounded in reality and subject to revision.

    This is just another form of moral relativism. What utter rot.

  27. Christopher Chantrill says

    I would say that secular humanism does too have the spiritual and mythical/historical.

    By spiritual I assume some sacred object of veneration. For secular believers, that sacred object is the Victim. First it was the workers, then women and blacks, and now the whole rainbow of LGTBQ and Muslims and migrants.

    By mythical/historical I assume any kind of narrative of the kind present in most Axial Age religions. For secularists the myth is a variant of: Back in the day humans lived in blissful equality, but then came patriarchy, and worse, feudalism, and worse, capitalism, and worse fascism, and now the Victims are strewn across the Earth like pebbles on a beach. But in the World to Come, all will be saved.

  28. Christopher Chantrill,

    Sorry, the Catholic/Christian imposition of Original Sin onto newborns is the most hideous example of making Victims.

  29. dirk says

    What I coincidentally came across this morning on Google, and supporting prof Staddon’s reasoning: The founding father of cultural antrhopology John Taylor thought that pure, secular atheism does not exist, the common atheism is just a minimalist form of monotheïst deism. So, that supports Staddon’s view that humanism ressorts under the same hood as religion.
    BTW, I don’t agree 100% with this early view of the professor, and wonder what modern scholars on this subject have to say now.

    • dirk says

      Sorry, the name is: Edward Tylor. I’m often too hasty in putting things down.

  30. BillyJoe says

    In this article the author said this about his previous article:
    “I wasn’t saying that secular humanism is a religion”

    In the previous article he said this:
    “It is now a rather old story: secular humanism is a religion”

    Well, you be the judge, but….

  31. dirk says

    In the most secular nation on this earth, Holland, two embarassing events that demand serious discussions and a political stance are: what to do with parents and unvaccinated kids? Enforce vaccination? Allow them in cheches with the vaccinated kids or not. And second: what to do with muslim highschools where rather undemocratic, illiberal principles are taught (to say the least), seen our constitution rule 23 on freedom of education. In both cases, I think, religion is no longer, what it has been for centuries, a positive and creative force and inspiration for mankind, but much more a serious hurdle, a brake on development.

  32. Nicolaas Stempels says

    I think there are quite a few apt comparisons.

    Atheism is a religion lthe same way that:
    – Baldness is a hair colour
    – ‘Off’ is a TV channel
    – Naked is a clothing style
    – Abstinence is a sexual position
    – Not collecting stamps is a hobby
    – Watching sport on TV is exercise

    I think we can all think of a few more.

  33. Pingback: My newest piece in Quillette: Another response to John Staddon « Why Evolution Is True

  34. Pingback: Secular Morality Does Not Depend on Faith - Quillette

Comments are closed.